October 4, 1999
Volume 52, No. 7
Foote, Emory Medalists highlight Alumni Weekend
A slate of nine distinguished Emory alumni and historian/novelist Shelby Foote made the keynote event of 1999 Alumni Weekend a success for the crowd gathered in Glenn Auditorium Sept. 25.
"Within these walls, I have now heard the noted historian Shelby Foote and a 22-year-old folk singer named Bob Dylan," commented James Ferman '65B after receiving his Emory Medal, the University's highest alumni honor.
This year's ceremony was bittersweet for Bob Carpenter, executive director of the Association of Emory Alumni, as it will be his last before he leaves Emory. But Carpenter kept the attention focused squarely on the 10 people gathered near the Glenn pulpit.
Foote, the only one of those 10 who does not hold an Emory degree, kept the audience at close attention with his low-pitched lecture on the connection between historians and novelists. "Everything I have to say about the writing of history, John Keats said 200 years ago," said the author of Shiloh and the three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative. "He said, 'I can never feel certain of any truth but by a clear perception of its beauty.' I take that to mean that how you say something is as important as what you say."
Reading from a prepared text, Foote said that "both novelists and historians are seeking truth--they just reach it by different routes." While historians communicate facts and novelists communicate sensations, "they are not hermetically sealed off from each other."
Foote also spoke of the danger of equating facts with truth. "The facts are not enough; sometimes they're not even necessary," he said, using Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage as an example. The book, a work of fiction based on the Battle of Chancellorsville and written by a man born eight years after the battle was fought, certainly qualifies as a sort of history. "But Crane cared so little about facts that he didn't even give the battle a name," Foote said.
The alumni receiving Emory Medals have certainly made names for themselves, however. From surgeons to shoe designers, lawyers to bishops, the group of nine rose one by one to accept their medals from Bill Fox, senior vice president for Institutional Advancement.
"New accessory," commented Kenneth Cole '76C on the award hanging around his neck. The world-famous designer of shoes and accessories had plenty of one-liners to sum up what his Emory education taught him: "I learned what you stand for is almost as important as what you stand in; I learned the importance of putting yourself in other people's shoes; I learned if we can't each make the world better, we can at least be an accessory."
"I'm just sick that I don't have on Kenneth Cole shoes," joked Cecelia Ferman '65C, who received an Emory Medal along with her husband James. The couple lives in Tampa, where James is president of Ferman Motor Car Co., the oldest franchise auto dealer in the country, and Cecelia is a lay minister and one of the city's most active community members.
"I'd like to thank my mother for excusing me from household chores so I could do my homework and read," said Beverly Guy-Sheftall '84PhD, Anna Julia Cooper Professor of English and Women's Studies at Spelman College. "There was a powerful message that that privilege conveyed."
After receiving her medal, former School of Nursing Interim Dean Margaret Parsons '75MN, '85PhD quipped, "Between that speech and this medal, I expect to get a lot more respect around the house." Parsons delayed her retirement by a year to guide the nursing school through the 1998-99 year.
Other Emory Medal recipients included Walter Beckham Jr. '41C, professor emeritus of law at the University of Miami Law School; Robert Chappell Jr. '56Ox, '56B, '68MBA, retired from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and benefactor of Emory's Chappell Park; Fleming Jolley '43Ox, '47M, a retired neurosurgeon who practiced at Emory Clinic until 1979; and Ann Brookshire Sherer '91DMin, the first Candler School of Theology alumna to serve as a bishop in the United Methodist Church.